Greek Jews honour Crete community drowned in entirety en route to Auschwitz

In May 1944, the Nazis rounded up the entire Jewish population of Crete and forced them onto a tanker ship called the Tanais.

The Nazis planned to bring the Jews to Auschwitz. But on June 9, as the ship approached the port of Piraeus, the commander of a British submarine spotted what he assumed was a German military vessel and ordered the firing of four torpedoes.

The Tanais sank and nearly all of the 300 Jews aboard drowned, ending the existence of a community that had lived in Crete uninterruptedly for 2,300 years.

A new exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens commemorates the history of that community through artifacts gathered from Jewish families who left Crete before the war.

Among the exhibit’s most poignant relics are the notebooks of Jewish children safeguarded by Christian neighbours.

The exhibit, launched just before the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Tanais, comes at a time when the German occupation has once again become a controversial subject in Greece.

It was not until 1996 that a group of Greek Jews undertook the reconstruction of the Etz Hayim synagogue. Today there are once again weekly services for members of the small but growing number of Jews who have returned to live in Crete.

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